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Saperstein & Gutmann: “Mr. President, by refusing to attend the opening ceremonies, you have the powerful opportunity to send a clear message to the Chinese government that America will not turn a blind eye.”
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Washington, D.C., April 14, 2008 – Reform Jewish leaders joined the growing movement calling for President Bush’s moral boycott of the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, China. Today, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism joined with Dr. Cheryl Gutmann, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism in writing directly to President Bush. The full text of the letter is as follows:
Dear President Bush,
On behalf of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, a joint body of the Union for Reform Judaism, which represents more than 900 congregations across North America encompassing 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis, we add our voice to the growing chorus of organizations urging you not to attend the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing this summer.
The modern Olympic Games, at their best, have been not just a symbol but a manifestation of peace, justice, and international cooperation. China was selected seven years ago in the hope that it would live up to those lofty goals. Sadly, in fact tragically, that has not been the case.
The opening ceremonies serve many purposes. On the one hand they celebrate the games and the Olympic spirit. On the other hand the host country puts on a spectacle that celebrates the achievements and spirit of the host nation. Mr. President, by refusing to attend the opening ceremonies, you have the powerful opportunity to send a clear message to the Chinese government that America will not turn a blind eye as a country on the world’s largest stage repeatedly commits egregious human rights violations. To be clear, we are not calling for an Olympic boycott. We believe that our athletes should have the opportunity to compete at the highest international level, but it does not follow that you should lend your personal endorsement to the symbolic celebration at the start of these games. During the 2001 selection process, Chinese officials assured the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that hosting the Olympic Games would be an opportunity to improve the country’s human rights record both at home and abroad, entering into what IOC President Jacques Rogge called a “moral agreement.” Unfortunately, it has become all too clear that today, the Chinese government has done little to rectify these injustices and has in fact continued its participation in significant and systematic human rights violations.
In addition to oppressing religious minorities within its own borders, China remains the largest consumer of Sudanese oil and the largest supplier of weapons to the Khartoum government, both of which enable the janjaweedmilitia to perpetrate genocide on its own people in the Darfur region of Sudan. In Tibet, China silences peaceful protests and against its cultural genocide and stifles calls for autonomy and refuses to speak to or negotiate with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s religious and spiritual leader. While in Burma, China economically and politically supports the military junta, which has oppressed its own people for nearly twenty years by limiting freedom of press, association, and religion and during the recent peaceful mass protests led by Buddhist monks, continued its support of the regime. Also, support for the repressive regime in North Korea cannot be ignored. We urge that you choose justice by symbolically standing alongside the refugees of Darfur, the clergy of Burma, and the oppressed citizenry of Tibet by refusing to attend the opening ceremonies.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Cheryl Gutmann, M.D.
Chair, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism